Catholicism in the public sphere has had a busy couple of months. Senator Kerry, homosexual advocates, various bishops, Iraq, abortion, and sexual abuse fallout have combined into a giant mess. There’s no good solution remaining; all options will be painful and incomplete. It’s going to take a long time for me to ponder over all the positions, and likely even longer to write about them. I’ve had a breakdown type of day today, winding up with me curled up crying, then taking a nap, two things not good for my progress. I swallow too much of my anger. Thus, the first piece of this exploration is going to be negative. It’s my mood.
The American Catholic Church today has an obsession with Mary,
occasionally bordering on Marydolatry. Many of you, imaginary readers, are screaming now, looking for tracts, clutching rosary beads, checking on excommunication laws, or some such. Before we go farther, I’ll give you a minute, and collect my symbols.
Recently, I was looking at days of obligation for various countries. The 1983 Canon lists ten, three relating to Mary. The American Bishops have reduced that number to six, but kept all three related to her. Other countries have taken a more balanced approach. For instance, Ireland has two Marian days out of six, England one of seven. Canada and Australia keep the minimum, one Marian day and Christmas. [Historical aside: Holy day count has changed over time. At the time of the Revolution, Americans celebrated over 30; this became 11 in 1777, and 10 in 1789 with the removal of St. George.] As with many things, the choice doesn’t appear strange on its face, and it’s not. The bishops have full rights to make that choice, and the United States has Mary as a patroness. But it’s highly symbolic.
Another symbol is closer to home, in my current house of worship.
Some basement space was cleaned and converted to house a bench, a kneeler,
and a monstrance. That makes one adoration chapel. The symbol here is the
holder of the consecrated host. It’s a huge statue of Mary, in comparison
to the small bread. I have great difficulty praying there – it feels
like worshipping a Goddess. Yes, I know it’s not, but it’s
My last symbol is experiential. I know many people have a devotion to Mary. Some, I think, have a worship of her – but that’s an individual story for another time. In this argument, the interesting thing is that these people are almost uniformly ultramontane and retrogressive. Here I use ultramontane to identify those that prefer strong hierarchy in the church, and a more direct style led by Rome. That’s not me, even though by the standards of the 1914 definition, I am ultramontane. I use retrogressive to describe those who say that civilization is in decline, like my dinner conversationalist one night who thought that returning to the 14th century order of things would be better. Beyond the simple metric of life expectancy (in 1850 America, half of all humans born died before the age of 30), there are other improvements – maybe I’ll post a list sometime. As a starter, how else would you be reading this?
Although a statistician puts relatively little faith in ancedote, the accumulated weight has become very heavy. I’ve meditated on this question for a couple weeks, searching for illumination. This question has surprised me because of my vehemence about the subject. Even three years ago, I kept a rosary in my bag, but now I see great danger. Right now, I want to learn why the hierarchial (conservative/traditionalist, though that’s unfair to them) wing is so Marian.
One possibility is that because the current pope favors Marian devotions,
the highly following have adopted the ways. For lots of people I know,
including me, John Paul II is the only pope we can remember. A related possibility is anti-Protestantism. In America, Marian thought, devotion, and such is basically limited to the papists. By charging down that route, Catholics emphasize their own identity – Baptists don’t have rosary beads. The cost goes beyond attempts at ecumenism; it excludes and cuts off paths for Protestants to look at the main church. More distressingly, it cuts off paths for Romanists to learn and grow through the good developments of the new movements. There are enough adversaries around that we don’t need to retreat from potential allies.
A more theological hypothesis might be what I consider a concept of
mission, as sub-mission. Mary gets portrayed, rightly or wrongly, as pliant;
after acceeding to the Lord’s demands, very little appears about her actions.
She’s behind the scenes. There are some exceptions, like the wedding at
Cana, but that’s sort of a behind the scenes request – helping with the
cooking. The readings at Sunday Mass yesterday, the 27th, dealt with the
costs of following the Lord, those like Elisha who could, and others who
could not. In the homily, the presider spoke about people who made great
sacrifices of personal faith, a feel-good testimony approach.
Key, though, was that these people took active stances, the full mission.
Relying on quiet Mary as role model is too passive, too sub, at least for me.
Overall, I just don’t know. What is it about Mary?